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Colors and Such

After Shya Scanlon’s reading tonight (which I thought was a tremendous success) I spoke with the recently debearded David Peak (and no, he’s not a mussel) and Chris Heavener (Have you picked up a copy of Annalemma’s gorgeous issue #5, yet?), and one of the things that David brought up was William Gass’s On Being Blue, Gass’s dazzling reverie on the color blue, the imagination, eros, and creativity. After gushing about that book I mentioned Theroux’s various sprawling essays on colors collected in two volumes: The Primary Colors: Three Essays and The Secondary Colors: Three Essays. (Theroux supposedly has an unpublished manuscript on black and white sitting in a drawer somewhere. Will somebody please publish it already?) I’d also mentioned Krzysztof Kieślowski’s amazing trilogy of films Blue, White, and Red. And David brought up William T. Vollman’s The Rainbow Stories.

So what are your thoughts about the abovementioned books and films? And what are some other works, e.g., poems, films, stories, books, songs, etc., that are sustained meditations on a specific color? There must be a slew of them.

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

11 thoughts on “Colors and Such

  1. Gass’s book just depresses me. (Waits for laughter…)

    Derek Jarman’s final film BLUE, that is a pleasure. And any artwork by Yves Klein, particularly his paintings of the ultramarine category—those, too, are a cheer and a comfort, I will attest.

    (Back to AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS…)

    1. I have to see that Jarman! My library doesn’t have it. Ugh.

      And yes, I’d forgotten Klein, not to mention many of the color field painters. Oh, there’s Robert Ryman’s white paintings (although with him I think of his work as a meditation on brushstrokes). And there’s Gerhard Richter’s monochrome gray panels. Ad Reinhardt has some monochromes, too.

      Forgot to mention Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods.

      1. Kiss me
        On the lips
        On the eyes
        Our name will be forgotten
        In time,
        No one will remember our work
        Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud
        And be scattered like
        Mist that is chased by the
        Rays of the sun
        For our time is the passing of a shadow
        And our lives will run like
        Sparks through the stubble.

        I place a delphinium, Blue, upon your grave

        http://www.evanizer.com/articles/blue.html

  2. i haven’t read or seen any of these. but i’m intrigued. maybe i’ll write a meditation on not seeing color. ya know. one day.

    1. That would be awesome. I’m sure someone has written something about being colorblind, but you should do so, too…

      I’ve been told that I’m slightly colorblind, but I don’t see it.

  3. really glad you posted this, john. i was thinking about this a lot last night. the one book that came to mind after i left was crime and punishment–the prominence of the color yellow, how the color haunts/covers/infests nearly every surface throughout the story.

    when done well, i think, this sort of thing can have a marvelous affect.

    1. For fun, I just downloaded Crime and Punishment and found that yellow is used 41 times in the novel. This doesn’t include yellow things like flowers, birds, etc., that might also show up in it. There must be an essay on this out there.

      I think that the color yellow in Russia during Dostoevsky’s time was associated with mental illness and suffering. And I just confirmed with a friend that “zhloty dom” (spelling?) the Russian word for lunatic asylum literally means “yellow house.”

      I forgot to mention Kate Braverman’s obsession with blue and her books Squandering the Blue and Desert Blues.

      Here she is talking about the color:

      Blue has so many meanings. Strive for words with multiple associations. Built into the deliberate overuse of blue is one of its many meanings. Moody. To be in a bad mood, a sad mood. A colloquialism for being sad is being blue. Blue is considered a sacred color in all religions. It carries a history, a pedigree. Blue is a color of zone. Writing is about ambiguity, all the writing I read and all I write, is about not having a solution. There are no more easy or even reasonable answers. We don’t know. It’s a time of hoping for a gesture, even a grunt. We don’t have a vocabulary large enough to encompass our grief. (That’s in another STB story, I suggest you get that book). After a century when Europe thought it had answered, by thought and action, more than god. Then, as you know, those 2 world wars, the best and the brightest, consuming itself. The writer could only speak in spasms, then formatting and demographics and the disappearance of entire professions. So blue is used to express all human strata, through the profound, through madness. The blue of knowing you live in a time when blue, the color of ink itself, is going into obsolescence. Look at my face. It’s an epic of tarnishing and dissolve.

      Find the rest HERE.

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